parliament election in Zimbabwe, mdc wins key parliament vote
Associated Press
Lovemore Moyo, of the Movement for Democratic Change, center, is lifted up by his party
members after being sworn in as the newly elected Speaker of Zimbabwe's Parliament. (AP)

Opposition Wins Crucial Parliament Vote in Zimbabwe

August 25, 2008 03:38 PM
by Cara McDonough
An opposition member has been elected speaker of parliament for the first time since 1980. Is President Robert Mugabe losing his hold over the government?

Victory for the Opposition

Lovemore Moyo, chairman of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, was voted speaker of parliament, winning with 110 votes over Paul Themba Nyathi, a candidate from a smaller faction of the MDC.

Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party did not put forward a candidate, and Mugabe backed the rival MDC faction. According to the BBC, Mugabe’s move “was a tactic to try and engineer control of parliament, which has backfired.” Mugabe is scheduled to open parliament on Tuesday.

The win means that the MDC holds a one-seat majority in parliament—100 seats to Zanu-PF’s 99—but, The Times of London writes, that may be all the party needs for a psychological advantage over Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years.

Although the win signals a possible change for the country, Zimbabwe may still have a long way to go before it achieves free and fair elections. Just hours before Moyo won the election, two opposition members of parliament were arrested outside the assembly chamber for reportedly trying to swing the vote in Mugabe’s favor.

Background: Power-sharing talks

The parliament election comes in the midst of power-sharing talks between Mugabe and his major opponent, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The peace talks began in July, following months of political violence that stemmed from the country’s disputed presidential elections in March.
But so far, there is little evidence that the two have struck a deal. Earlier this month, Mugabe reportedly agreed to a power-sharing deal with Arthur Mutambara, the leader of an MDC faction group, but the agreement completely left out Tsvangirai. Critics expressed doubt that the deal could help the struggling country.

“Morgan Tsvangirai is the main opposition leader, and any agreement that doesn’t include his party will not work for the country. It actually just complicates issues,” said John Makumbe, a Mugabe critic and veteran commentator to Reuters.

While the terms of the deal with Mutambara were not immediately clear, analysts believed the agreement was likely to form a national unity administration that could possibly give Mugabe control of the new government. The MDC’s recent parliament win, however, may throw the agreement into question.

Key Player: Lovemore Moyo

Moyo, 43, will take on one of the most powerful positions in politics in Zimbabwe, according to Reuters. He was previously the MDC’s national chairman, beating a candidate from a rival opposition faction and winning 110 votes in the 210-member assembly.

Opinion & Analysis: Will power-sharing work?

Though many foreign observers have welcomed the power-sharing talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, James Kirchick of The Wall Street Journal warns in a recent opinion piece that “sharing power just isn’t something Mugabe does.” 

He compares the recent events in Zimbabwe to those of nearly 30 years ago when Zimbabwe was still the British colony of Rhodesia. Mugabe threatened to kill anyone who participated in the country’s first multiracial election, which would give whites 28 out of 100 parliamentary seats.

“Today, the world is once again allowing Mugabe to get away with murder,” Kirchick writes. “Mugabe and his generals have no interest in ‘sharing’ power, never mind giving it up. Any agreement that gives significant political control to Mugabe would betray all the Zimbabweans who risked their lives for democracy.”

Political scientists Stephen Brown, Chandra Lekha Sriram and Marie-Joëlle Zahar analyze the situation in the Guardian, agreeing that power-sharing agreements are often the best choice, but that such a deal most likely won’t work in Zimbabwe.

The agreements are “difficult to negotiate under the best of circumstances,” they write, and would be even harder to sustain in Zimbabwe, where there are major impediments, including an historic lack of trust between the participating parties.

They write that “Allowing a small number of elites to determine outcomes is inherently undemocratic, and manifestly ignores voters’ choices. It would make more sense to hold new elections as soon as possible, preferably under a caretaker government.”

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